On Monday afternoon, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN that he’s “not confident” a 2020 season will occur — just five days after he said it was “100 percent” that games would be played. How could you not have questions in the wake of this head-spinning turn of events? Thankfully, some answers can be found below.
Q. What the heck just happened?
A. Manfred, citing concerns that the MLB Players Association would file a grievance upon the commissioner’s unilateral implementation of a 2020 schedule, backed off his vow of holding a season through hell or high COVID-19 numbers. He also wasn’t thrilled by the notion that big-name players might now show up at all or, if they did, not feel particularly cooperative about promoting the game.
Q. So he’s worried that he would lose a grievance, thereby exposing his owner-bosses to not only billions of dollars (for wages and opportunities lost) in damages but also the further smearing of their reputations that already have taken a hit the last few months?
A. Sure. Veteran litigators will tell you that a great case carries only an 80 percent chance of victory, so if Manfred thought his side’s argument to be airtight, that’s still a 20 percent risk of catastrophe. Beyond that, even a victory would prove costly in the number of billable hours required to defend the case.
Q. Hold on. What happened to the notion that, once the PA said, “Tell us when and where [to play],” as it boldly did on Saturday, then Manfred had no choice besides moving forward?
A. You should know by now that it’s never that simple. Manfred need not fire the starter’s gun until 1) governments lift their restrictions on fans attending games (which would solve everything); 2) there are no relevant travel limitations in the United States and Canada; and 3) both sides sign off on all medical rules and regulations. Right now, they are 0-for-3, although Manfred did say last week, during the same interview in which he made his “100 percent” proclamation, that the owners and players were “very, very close” on the medical protocols.
Q. Good grief. What a dumpster fire. So what’s next?
A. Forecasting these talks, which began in earnest on May 12, has proven more difficult than understanding the plot of “Westworld.” Nevertheless, the gut call here is that the two sides reconnect shortly, in some form, and MLB improves upon its most recent offer (guaranteed 70 percent pay for a 72-game season) in the hopes of collectively bargaining a solution and holding a season while avoiding that darn grievance.
Q. If there is no season, what will the players get?
A. They agreed to a $170 million lump sum during the now-legendary March 26 agreement. They divided that up in a way that distributed $300,000 each to veterans. That amounts to less than two days’ pay for what new Yankees ace Gerrit Cole would have been paid ($385,026.74) had the coronavirus not shut down the world. The players also received service time, which means that, for example, Mookie Betts could become a free agent without ever playing for the Dodgers.
Q. Let’s say we get this nuclear option and there’s no season, but conditions improve enough to hold a standard season, with paying fans, in 2021. Does everything just revert to normal?
A. For the short term of next season, yes. However, next season marks the final one of this current Basic Agreement. The possibility of a lockout or strike for 2022, given how poorly these two sides coexist, looms.
Q. Isn’t it possible that, if the players and owners had efficiently solved this dilemma and already were at spring training now, it wouldn’t have mattered thanks to the coronavirus lingering and/or spiking in important baseball states like Arizona, California, Florida and Texas?
A. It sure is. There might not be a season no matter what thanks to COVID-19. At least, by navigating these tough times as embarrassingly poor as they have, the owners and players can know that they inflicted serious damage on their game. Nice job, folks.